Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
here we are. It is a party that has joined with the government to slash the renewable energy target, to continue to open up new coalmines, to lock up young kids, to turn boats around, to ensure that they gag doctors from speaking out, to continue to drop bombs on Syria, to ensure that we rip money out of scholarships from university students and to join with the government in their heavy-handed, paternalistic and completely ineffective welfare measures directed at Aboriginal people. It is a party that has joined with the government to support mandatory data retention. The list goes on and on and on. To paraphrase a former Labor Prime Minister: I will not be lectured about voting for the coalition by the ALP, not now and not ever.
We are proud of our record in this parliament. Let us start with one of the issues that you have taken issue with, Senator Dastyari—that is, the issue of pensions. We did not support John Howard's unfair pension changes when he introduced them, and we were proud to be able to take them back and to ensure that we redistribute income from those people who are wealthier to give more to those people at the bottom end of the income scale.
The same goes for tax transparency, Senator Dastyari. Under your plan, we would have absolutely nothing but, thanks to the Greens, we now have: country-by-country reporting, more powers within the Australian Taxation Office, and just this week companies will now have to disclose the amount of tax that they pay. But do you know what my favourite attack is? My favourite attack is—and I read about this one today—that we have been criticised for supporting the establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund. I saw that on one of the Labor billboards. So we have got medical researchers right across the country who now have $20 billion to bring a return to the medical research investment community here in Australia, who have developed a life-saving treatment as a result of that and the ALP think it is such a bad thing that they have included it on their dirt sheet. Do you know what someone forgot to tell the brains trust within the ALP? They actually voted for it. You cannot make this stuff up!
And then we have got Labor's grand plan. The grand plan is that if you support a democratic reform and put the power back in the hands of voters that somehow you are giving control of the Senate to the coalition. Apart from the fact that if you keep fighting us rather than the coalition, it may actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy, let me make this one point: if these changes were introduced in 2010, right now we would have the Greens and Labor with a majority in the Senate and we would still have the carbon price. We would still have those laws that we helped establish. Some of those laws are the most ambitious climate laws anywhere in the world and you are saying that you want to prevent a reform that would have helped us keep the carbon price. You argue that we should hold off on passing the bill—just do not do it now; just do not go to a double dissolution—as though somehow we should have an unfair voting system for one election and then change it to make it fairer after the next election. You either believe in democracy or you do not.
Let me say a few things about the role of the ACTU in their campaign against these reforms. When union members' money is being spent on misleading robo calls and push polling against a party that has got a proud record of standing alongside ordinary working people, it is no wonder that we are being contacted by union members, some of them senior officials, to apologise on behalf of the union leadership. I have to just say this: at a time when the union movement is having an existential crisis, they need to decide whose interests they represent. Do they represent the interests of ordinary working people or do they represent the interests of the Labor Party? Because they are not the same thing.
Politics is a long game. People in this place get really excited about the day-to-day tactical battles, about the arcane Senate procedures, about how we can manoeuvre ourselves to outposition our political opponents. But you know what? It is ultimately the substance that wins out, not some win over some obscure senate motion, not year 9 billboards that you plaster around the internet.
In closing, the Labor Party should actually try and understand my story, because, if they do not, their decline will continue. I come from a working class immigrant Italian family. We are a family of tradies, of teachers, of people who are ordinary workers. I had a grandfather who eulogised Gough Whitlam. He thought Gough was the greatest man alive. And you know what, 30 years ago there is a good chance that someone like me would have been sitting over there but not anymore. Even though my politics were forged from those values, after the gradual shift across to the right, after Labor introduced mandatory detention, after successive Labor governments signed the death warrant to some of our most precious native forests, I decided that you guys do not represent my values or the values now of many hundreds of thousands of Australians.
Thousands more have come on board over the years. When John Howard joined with Kim Beazley to excise Australian land as a result of the Tampa crisis, thousands more came across. When Labor joined with the coalition to support the invasion of Iraq, thousands more came across to the Greens. When Labor walked away from the greatest moral challenge of our time—that is, global warming—thousands more came across to the Greens. And that will continue to happen unless you recognise that it is you that is the problem, not us. When it is all said and done, my advice to the Labor Party is: if you really want to defeat the conservative policy agenda, you need to focus your attention on the conservatives, not on us.
Senator Dastyari interjecting—